RESEARCH TRIANGLE PARK, N.C. -- A new computational model could be used to expedite military operations aimed at evacuating civilians during disaster response or humanitarian relief.
Researchers at North Carolina State University, with funding from the U.S. Army, designed a new model to help planners and logisticians determine what needs to be where and at what time in order to complete an evacuation as quickly as possible. This includes where vehicles need to be when, and routing alternatives as well as supply requirements by location over time for food, water and shelter.
"What sets this tool apart from other models is that it is designed for use in both planning and during operations," said Brandon McConnell, corresponding author of a paper on the new model and a research assistant professor in NC State's Edward P. Fitts Department of Industrial and Systems Engineering. "In terms of specificity, we're talking about where a given truck will be at any point in time during an operation."
The research, published in the Journal of Defense Analytics and Logistics, focuses on noncombatant evacuation operations in the Republic of Korea; however, it could be used in a wide variety of scenarios.
"The tool will need fine-tuning before it can be implemented -- it would benefit from a user-friendly interface, for one thing -- but it highlights the potential that operational models have for helping the military achieve its objectives both in or out of wartime," said Dr. Joseph Myers, mathematical sciences division chief at the Army Research Office, an element of U.S. Army Combat Capabilities Development Command's Army Research Laboratory.
The Army Research Office funded this research through a short-term innovation research grant that explores proof-of-concept ideas in a nine-month period.
The authors said this research will provide military logistics planners with capabilities that are currently lacking in prevalent logistics planning tools. The project lays the mathematical and operations research foundation for the development of a network-based model that captures routing alternatives and characterizes the solutions to conduct capacity planning and resiliency analysis in near-real time.
"There is a tremendous amount of complexity associated with the Army's South Korea noncombatant evacuation mission, and that presents a great opportunity for investigation and improvement," said U.S. Army Capt. John Kearby, first author of the paper and a former NC State graduate student. "The goal of this research was, and is, to encourage the development of better and more robust evacuation plans."
Kearby is currently a U.S. Military Academy instructor, but previously served in Korea as an engineer company commander.
"The existing simulation models are both sophisticated and detailed -- they have been valuable tools for helping us study operations like these," McConnell said. "However, they're not designed to respond to rapidly changing scenarios. The new model can operate in near-real time, making it operationally relevant. After all, even the best plans need at least minor modifications during execution."